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So when they had prayed to the gods they1 went back to their posts; and while Cyrus and his staff were still engaged with the sacrifice, their attendants brought them meat and drink. And Cyrus remained standing just as he was and first offered to the gods a part and then began his breakfast, and kept giving a share of it also from time to time to any one who most needed it. And when he had poured a libation and prayed, he drank; and the rest, his staff-officers, followed his example. After that, he prayed to ancestral Zeus to be their guide and helper and then mounted his horse and bade his staff do the same. [2] Now all Cyrus's staff were panoplied in armour the same as his: purple tunics, bronze corselets, bronze helmets with white plumes, and sabres; and each had a single spear with a shaft of cornel wood. Their horses were armed with frontlets, breast-pieces, and thigh-pieces of bronze; these served to protect the thighs of the rider as well. The arms of Cyrus differed from those of the rest in this only, that while the rest were overlaid with the ordinary gold colour, Cyrus's arms flashed like a mirror. [3]

Then, when he had mounted his horse and sat2 looking off in the direction he was to take, there was a clap of thunder on the right. “Almighty Zeus, we will follow thee,” he cried, and started, with Chrysantas, the master of the horse, and the cavalry on the right, and on the left Arsamas and the infantry. [4] And he gave orders to keep an eye upon his ensign and advance in even step. Now his ensign was a golden eagle with outspread wings mounted upon a long shaft. And this continues even unto this day as the ensign of the Persian king.

Before they came in sight of the enemy, he halted the army as many as three times. [5] But when they had advanced about twenty stadia, then they began to get sight of the enemy's army coming on to meet them. And when they were all in sight of3 one another and the enemy became aware that they greatly outflanked the Persians on both sides, Croesus halted his centre—for otherwise it is impossible to execute a surrounding manoeuvre—and began to wheel the wings around to encompass the Persians, thus making his own lines on either flank in form like a gamma, so as to close in and attack on all three sides at once. [6] But Cyrus, although he saw this movement, did not any the more recede but led on just as before.

“Do you observe, Chrysantas, where the wings are drawing off to form their angle with the centre?” he asked, as he noticed at what a distance from the centre column on both sides they made their turning point, and how far they were pushing forward their wings in executing their flanking movement.

“Indeed I do,” answered Chrysantas, “and I am surprised, too; for it strikes me that they are drawing their wings a long way off from their centre.”

“Aye, by Zeus,” said Cyrus, “and from ours, too.” [7]

“What, pray, is the reason for that?”

“Evidently because they are afraid their wings will get too close to us while their centre is still far away and that we shall thus close with them.”

“Then,” said Chrysantas, “how will the one division be able to support the other, when they are so far apart?”

“Well,” answered Cyrus, “it is obvious that just as soon as the wings now advancing in column get directly opposite the flanks of our army, they will face about so as to form front and then advance upon us from all three sides simultaneously; for it is their intention to close in on us on all sides at once.” [8]

“Well,” said Chrysantas, “do you then think their plan a good one?”

“Yes; to meet what they see. But in the face of what they do not see, it is even worse than if they were coming on in column. But do you, Arsamas,”4 said he, “lead on your infantry slowly, just as you see me moving; and you, Chrysantas, follow along with the cavalry in an even line with him; meanwhile I shall go to the point where it seems to me most advantageous to open the battle; and at the same time, as I pass along, I will take observations and see how everything is with our side. [9] But when I reach the spot, and as soon as in our advance we are near enough together, I will begin the paean, and then do you press on. And the moment we come to close quarters with the enemy, you will perceive it, for there will be no little noise, I presume; and at the same moment Abradatas will charge with his chariots upon the enemy's lines—for so he will be instructed to do—and you must follow him, keeping as close as possible behind the chariots. For in this way we shall best throw the enemy into confusion and then fall upon them. And I also shall be there as soon as I can, please God, to join in the pursuit.” [10]

When he had spoken these words, he passed5 along the lines the watchword, Zeus our Saviour and Guide, and rode on. And as he passed between the lines of chariots and heavy-armed infantry and bestowed a glance upon some of those in the lines, he would say: “What a pleasure it is, my friends, to look into your faces.” And then again in the presence of others he would say: “I trust you remember, men, that in the present battle not only is to-day's victory at stake, but also the first victory you won and all our future success.” [11] Before still others, as he passed along, he would remark: “For all time to come, my men, we shall never have any more fault to find with the gods; for they have given us the opportunity of winning many blessings. So let us prove ourselves valiant men.” [12] Passing still others he said: “To what fairer common feast6 could we ever invite each other, my men, than to this one? For now by showing ourselves brave men we may each contribute many good things for our mutual benefit.” [13] Passing others he would say: “I suppose that you understand, men, that pursuing, dealing blows and death, plunder, fame, freedom, power—all these are now held up as prizes for the victors; the cowardly, of course, have the reverse of all this. Whoever, therefore, cares for himself, let him fight with me; for I will never bring myself to do anything base or cowardly, if I can help it.” [14] But whenever he came past any of those who had fought under him before, he would say: “What need to say anything to you, my men? For you know how the brave celebrate a day in battle, and how cowards.” [15]

And as he passed along and came to Abradatas, he stopped; and Abradatas, handing the reins to his groom, came toward him, and others also of those whose positions were near, both foot and chariot-drivers, ran up. And then to the company gathered about him Cyrus said: “Abradatas, God has approved7 your request that you and your men should take the front ranks among the allies. So now remember this, when presently it becomes necessary for you to enter the conflict, that Persians will not only be your witnesses but will also follow you and will not let you go into the conflict unsupported.” [16]

“Well,” answered Abradatas, “to me at least our part of the army seems to be all right; but I am anxious for the flanks; for I see the enemy's wings stretching out strong with chariots and troops of every description, while in the centre there is nothing opposed to our side except chariots; and so if I had not obtained this position by lot, I should, for my part, be ashamed of being here, so much the safest position do I think I occupy.” [17]

“Well,” said Cyrus, “if your part is all right,8 never fear for the others; for with the help of the gods I will clear those flanks of enemies for you. And do not you hurl yourself upon the opposing ranks, I adjure you, until you see in flight those whom you now fear.” Cyrus indulged in such boastful speech only on the eve of battle; at other times he was never boastful at all; and he went on: “But when you see them in flight, then be sure that I am already at hand, and charge upon those fellows; for at that moment you will find your opponents most cowardly and your own men valiant. [18]

“But now, Abradatas, while you have time, by all means ride along your line of chariots and exhort your men to the charge, cheering them by your own looks and buoying them up with hopes. Furthermore, inspire them with a spirit of rivalry that you and your division may prove yourselves the best of the charioteers. And that will be worth while; for be assured that if we are successful to-day, all men in future will say that nothing is more profitable than valour.”

Abradatas accordingly mounted and drove along and did as Cyrus had suggested. [19]

And as Cyrus passed along again, he came to9 the left wing, where Hystaspas was with half the Persian cavalry; he called him and said: “Now, Hystaspas, you see some use for your speed; for now, if we can kill the enemy before they kill us, not one of us will perish.” [20]

“Well,” said Hystaspas laughing, “we will take care of those opposite us; assign those on the flank to another division, so that they also may have something to do.”

“Why,” said Cyrus, “I am going on to them myself. But remember this, Hystaspas, no matter to which of us God gives the victory first, if afterwards anything is left of any part of the enemy, let us all engage any force that still continues the fight.” [21]

Thus he spoke and passed on. And as he10 went along the flank, he came to the general in command of the chariots there and to him he said: “Yes, I am coming to help you; but when you see us charging on the extremity of the enemy's wing, then do you try at the same time to break through their lines; for you will be in a much securer position if you get clear through than if you are enclosed within their line.” [22]

And as he passed on again and came behind11 the women's carriages, he ordered Artagerses and Pharnuchus with their respective regiments of infantry and cavalry to stay there. “But,” said he, “when you see me charging against those opposite our right wing, do you also attack those opposite you. And you will be in a phalanx—the formation in which you would be strongest—and take the enemy on their flank, the position in which an army is weakest. And, as you see, their cavalry stands furthest out; so by all means send against them the brigade of camels, and be assured that even before the battle begins you will see the enemy in a ridiculous plight.” [23]

When Cyrus had completed his round of the12 troops, he passed on to the right wing. And Croesus, thinking that the centre, which he commanded in person, was already nearer to the enemy than the wings that were spreading out beyond, gave a signal to his wings not to go out any further but to halt and face about. And when they had halted, and stood facing Cyrus's army, Croesus gave them the signal to advance against the foe. [24] And so the three phalanxes advanced upon the army of Cyrus, one from in front, the other two against his wings, one from the right, the other from the left; in consequence, great fear came upon all his army. For just like a little tile set inside a large one,13 Cyrus's army was encompassed by the enemy on every side, except the rear, with horsemen and hoplites, with targeteers and bowmen and chariots. [25] Still, when Cyrus gave the command, they all turned and faced the enemy. And deep silence reigned on every hand because of their apprehension as to what was coming. Then, when it seemed to Cyrus to be just the right time, he began the paean and all the army joined in the chant. [26] After it was finished, together they14 raised the battle-shout to Enyalius, and in that instant Cyrus dashed forward; and at once he hurled his cavalry upon the enemy's flank and in a moment he was engaged with them hand to hand. With a rapid movement the infantry followed him in good order and began to envelop the enemy on this side and on that, so that he had them at a great disadvantage; for he clashed with a phalanx against their flank; and as a result, the enemy soon were in headlong flight. [27]

As soon as Artagerses saw Cyrus in action,15 he delivered his attack on the enemy's left, putting forward the camels, as Cyrus had directed. But while the camels were still a great way off, the horses gave way before them; some took fright and ran away, others began to rear, while others plunged into one another; for such is the usual effect that camels produce upon horses. [28] And Artagerses, with his men in order, fell upon them in their confusion; and at the same moment the chariots also charged on both the right and the left. And many in their flight from the chariots were slain by the cavalry following up their attack upon the flank, and many also trying to escape from the cavalry were caught by the chariots. [29]

And Abradatas also lost no more time, but16 shouting, “Now, friends, follow me,” he swept forward, showing no mercy to his horses but drawing blood from them in streams with every stroke of the lash. And the rest of the chariot-drivers also rushed forward with him. And the opposing chariots at once broke into flight before them; some, as they fled, took up their dismounted17 fighting men, others left theirs behind. [30]

But Abradatas plunged directly through them and hurled himself upon the Egyptian phalanx; and the nearest of those who were arrayed with him also joined in the charge. Now, it has been demonstrated on many other occasions that there is no stronger phalanx than that which is composed of comrades that are close friends; and it was shown to be true on this occasion. For it was only the personal friends and mess-mates of Abradatas who pressed home the charge with him, while the rest of the charioteers, when they saw that the Egyptians with their dense throng withstood them, turned aside after the fleeing chariots and pursued them. [31] But in the place where Abradatas and his companions charged, the Egyptians could not make an opening for them because the men on either side of them stood firm; consequently, those of the enemy who stood upright were struck in the furious charge of the horses and overthrown, and those who fell were crushed to pieces by the horses and the wheels, they and their arms; and whatever was caught in the scythes—everything, arms and men, was horribly mangled. [32]

As in this indescribable confusion the wheels bounded over the heaps of every sort, Abradatas and others of those who went with him into the charge were thrown to the ground, and there, though they proved themselves men of valour, they were cut down and slain.

Then the Persians, following up the attack at the18 point where Abradatas and his men had made their charge, made havoc of the enemy in their confusion; but where the Egyptians were still unharmed—and there were many such—they advanced to oppose the Persians. [33] Here, then, was a dreadful conflict with spears and lances and swords. The Egyptians, however, had the advantage both in numbers and in weapons; for the spears that they use even unto this day are long and powerful, and their shields cover their bodies much more effectually than corselets and targets, and as they rest against the shoulder they are a help in shoving. So, locking their shields Together, they advanced and showed. [34] And because the Persians had to hold out their little shields clutched in their hands, they were unable to hold the line, but were forced back foot by foot, giving and taking blows, until they came up under cover of the moving towers. When they reached that point, the Egyptians in turn received a volley from the towers; and the forces in the extreme rear would not allow any retreat on the part of either archers or lancers, but with drawn swords they compelled them to shoot and hurl. [35] Then there was a dreadful carnage, an awful din of arms and missiles of every sort, and a great tumult of men, as they called to one another for aid, or exhorted one another, or invoked the gods. [36]

At this juncture Cyrus came up in pursuit of19 the part that had been opposed to him; and when he saw that the Persians had been forced from their position, he was grieved; but as he realized that he could in no way check the enemy's progress more quickly than by marching around behind them, he ordered his men to follow him and rode around to the rear. There he fell upon the enemy as they faced the other way and smote them and slew many of them. [37] And when the Egyptians became aware of their position they shouted out that the enemy was in their rear, and amidst the blows they faced about. And then they fought promiscuously both foot and horse; and a certain man, who had fallen under Cyrus's horse and was under the animal's heels, struck the horse in the belly with his sword. And the horse thus wounded plunged convulsively and threw Cyrus off. [38] Then one might have realized how much it is worth to an officer to be loved by his men; for they all at once cried out and leaping forward they fought, shoved and were shoved, gave and received blows. And one of his aides-de-camp leaped down from his own horse and helped him mount upon it; [39] and when Cyrus had mounted he saw that the Egyptians were now assailed on every side; for Hystaspas also and Chrysantas had now come up with the Persian cavalry. But he did not permit them yet to charge into the Egyptian phalanx, but bade them shoot and hurl from a distance.

And when, as he rode round, he came to the20 engines, he decided to ascend one of the towers and take a view to see if anywhere any part of the enemy's forces were making a stand to fight. [40] And when he had ascended the tower, he looked down upon the field full of horses and men and chariots, some fleeing, some pursuing, some victorious, other vanquished; but nowhere could he discover any division that was still standing its ground, except that of the Egyptians; and they, inasmuch as they found themselves in a desperate condition, formed in a complete circle and crouched behind their shields, so that only their weapons were visible; but they were no longer accomplishing anything, but were suffering very heavy loss. [41]

And Cyrus, filled with admiration for their21 conduct and moved to pity for them that men as brave as they were should be slain, drew off all those who were fighting around the ring and allowed no one to fight any more. Then he sent a herald to them to ask whether they all wished to die for those who had treacherously deserted them or to save their lives and at the same time be accounted brave men.

“How could we save our lives,” they answered, “and at the same time be accounted brave men?” [42]

“You can,” Cyrus replied, “because we are witnesses that you are the only ones who stood your ground and were willing to fight.”

“Well,” answered the Egyptians, “granting that, what can we do consistently with honour to save our lives?”

“You could surrender your arms,” Cyrus answered again, “and become friends of those who choose to save you, when it is in their power to destroy you.” [43]

“And if we become your friends,” they asked on hearing that, “how will you see fit to deal with us?”

“I will do you favours and expect favours from you,” answered Cyrus.

“What sort of favours?” asked the Egyptians in turn.

“As long as the war continues,” Cyrus made22 answer to this, “I would give you larger pay than you were now receiving; and when peace is made, to those of you who care to stay with me I will give lands and cities and wives and servants.” [44]

On hearing this, the Egyptians begged to be excused from taking part in any campaign against Croesus, for with him alone, they said, they were acquainted; all other stipulations they accepted, and gave and received pledges of good faith. [45]

And the Egyptians who then stayed in the country have continued loyal subjects to the king even unto this day; and Cyrus gave them cities, some in the interior, which even to this day are called Egyptian cities, and besides these Larissa and Cyllene near Cyme on the coast; and their descendants dwell there even unto this day.

When he had accomplished this, it was already dark; and Cyrus led back his forces and encamped in Thymbrara. [46]

The Egyptians were the only ones of all the23 enemy that distinguished themselves in the battle, while of those under Cyrus the Persian cavalry seemed to be the most efficient. And therefore the equipment which Cyrus had then provided for his cavalry continues in use even to our own times. [47]

The scythe-bearing chariots also won extraordinary distinction, so that this military device also has been retained even to our day by each successive king. [48]

The camels, however, did nothing more than frighten the horses; their riders could neither kill any one nor be killed by any of the enemy's cavalry, for not a horse would come near them. [49]

What they did do seemed useful enough; but be that as it may, no gentleman is willing to keep a camel for riding or to practise for fighting in war upon one. And so they have again taken their proper position and do service among the pack-animals.

1 Cyrus makes ready for the advance

2 His army moves forward

3 Croesus begins his flanking movement

4 Cyrus gives orders how to meet it

5 He encourages his men

6 A “common feast,” ἔρανος, was a feast where all the participants contributed an equal share—a picnic. The ἔρανος might also be a society or club in which all the members contributed equally to some public cause.

7 His last interview with Abradatas

8 His confidence in the outcome

9 He exhorts other officers: (1) Hystaspas,

10 (2) the commander of the chariots,

11 (3) Pheraulas and Artagerses

12 Croesus orders his attack;

13 The point of Xenophon's simile is clear, when we recall the marble tiling of the temple roofs of his time.

14 but Cyrus anticipates him on the right,

15 Artagerses on the left

16 Abradatas charges to his death

17 Compare Xen. Cyrop. 3.3.60; Xen. Cyrop. 6.1.27

18 The Persians charge the Egyptian phalanx

19 Cyrus falls upon their rear

20 Cyrus surveys the field from a movable tower

21 He spares the Egyptians

22 and wins their allegiance

23 Observations on the battle

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  • Commentary references to this page (2):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Ajax, 774
    • C.E. Graves, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 4, CHAPTER XI
  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PHA´LERAE
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), SPECULUM
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